Well, the grading is done and the snow has begun. So some thoughts on the grading.
All in all, I'm pleased with what the students did. One student just didn't get what was expected, but I have high hopes that with some coaching this student will do fine as this assignment is repeated throughout the semester. This is why I love this particular assignment. Each individual installment is worth but a tiny portion of the final grade (less than 5%) and so it means that I can give "real" grades with lots of feedback, and as the assignment repeats throughout the semester, the students can improve. If they do, sucking on the first one won't really hurt them at all in the final grade. So they get a sense of my "real" standard, but it doesn't really *hurt* their chances to do well. Also, it means I get to send a message to my stronger students when they turn in sloppy work (as some invariably do, because they forget that what they must do for me is more than they must do in some other contexts). Instead of grading relationally (as in, the stronger ones always get A's because they're so clearly stronger than the others coming in) I can push them harder, again, without it making a substantive difference in their final achievement in the course.
So, this is a small class. I gave a couple of A's, a bunch of B's, a few C's, and only two F's. In all, I'm very happy with the distribution for this first go-around. I'm also happy that they chose to write on different options, which I always think is a really good sign on an assignment like this. It means that they're *thinking* about what they'd like to write about, as opposed to just writing on what they think is "easiest."
The sorts of responses that I received varied a good bit, and there is room for some variation in the assignment, so that ended up being interesting. Some of them are stronger writers than others, and some are clearly far ahead of their classmates in terms of their initial ability to engage with the material. That said, I came away from this first round of grading in there feeling like the course is off to a very good start. Even the weaker ones are grappling with sophisticated questions, and the stronger ones, well, they are very, very strong. Now, I was apprehensive about this course at the outset, and I didn't know how successful I'd be in my context teaching this material, especially having talked with my colleagues who teach a similar course. Let's just say that in reading over the first assignment, I was very pleasantly surprised. Very.
In other news, I also recently graded the first work from my other class, and I had a very similar experience to the one that I outlined above, in which I was pleasantly surprised and also really... just proud of my students for engaging with stuff that's outside of their comfort zones. The more I teach at this institution, the more I admire the students whom I teach and the more that I feel proud to teach them. And the more evidence I see that I'm suited to the kind of teaching that I do. Sure, it's not easy, and sure, I get a good amount of resistance that comes in a variety of forms. But wow. I am just regularly amazed by what my students achieve when I give them the opportunities to do so. Maybe I shouldn't be so amazed, but I mean it in the most absolutely complimentary way possible.
3 years ago